January
25th 2009
A tale of two Senators

Posted under: American history, class, Gender, jobs, local news, nepotism, unhappy endings, women's history

“Senator G” was appointed to the Senate by hir state’s governor because the previous Senator was invited to join the Obama cabinet.  Ze is white, 42 years old, is the parent of two children, was twice elected to congress, and has a public record of hir votes on the issues of the day.  What kind of coverage does Senator G get in the mainstream press?  Ze is called “Tracy Flick,” “unpopular among peers,” and anonymous sources are sniping at hir, saying that ze is known for “aggressiveness and self-confidence,” which alienates peers and senior colleagues who believe ze is “trying to leap-frog up the seniority ladder.”

“Senator B” was appointed to the Senate by hir state’s governor because the previous Senator was invited to join the Obama cabinet.  Ze is white, 44 years old, the parent of three children, has never held elective office but has held several jobs won through family and old school connections, and is a complete cipher as to hir positions on the issues of the day.  What kind of coverage does Senator B get in the mainstream press?  When ze held an “open house” to “get to know” people–because ze has never, ever campaigned or won a single vote in hir lifetime–a local paper reported that “the senator was mobbed by well-wishers delivering congratulations as well as citizens with concerns they wanted [B] to hear. A table of brownies and cookies disappeared during the first hour of the three hour event.

Brownies and cookies!  Did you hear that, Senator G?  Why didn’t you think of that?  Oh, right–you’re too ambitious and too focused on leap-frogging up the seniority ladder, aren’t you?  Christ on a cracker, people:  now will you believe me about Sarah PalinBecause Senator G went to Dartmouth, has a law degree from UCLA, and learned Chinese as a second language, people can’t call her “trailer trash” or “Governor Gidget” or “beauty queen,” while mocking her for her monstrous, absurd ambition.  No–she gets called “Tracy Flick” and her hands slapped for being so monstrously, inappropriately ambitious instead. 

Meanwhile, Senator B gets a free pass–for passing out brownies!  Please, just close your eyes and swap sexes on Senator G and Senator B.  Re-read the stories imagining that the subject is of the opposite sex, whereupon your brain will explode and the contents will fly out of your ears.

I’m officially and permanently angry about this.  Where can I sign up to primary my Governor and new Senator?

25 Comments »

25 Responses to “A tale of two Senators”

  1. John S. on 26 Jan 2009 at 12:23 am #

    What is striking to me comparing these two articles is the discussion of policy positions (or lack thereof). The Bennet piece included the newly appointed Senator trumpeting his own policy beliefs (though it is somewhat easy to tell everyone how you voted with our popular new president). But neither the author of the piece nor anyone else quoted seemed to feel that, you know, his stance on issues mattered.

    The Gillibrand article, meanwhile, makes no reference to her positions at all. I will admit that I have some misgivings about her as a Senator–but they all revolve around the fact that I wish Paterson had chosen a more liberal Democrat. (A 100% rating from the NRA? Really?) But the Politico reporters don’t seem to think that’s important.

    I’m often stunned at how substance-free all political reporting is; you’d barely know there are substantive issues, at times. And there is such a perverse feedback loop with gender. The less substance there is the easier it seems to be to indulge in the worst gender stereotypes. And the more sexist people are, the less they feel any need to talk about, you know, what it is that governing is all about.

    Oh, and Historiann, you’re forgetting something about Tracy Flick that makes the comparison even a little more odious. Remember what Tracy was doing at the beginning of _Election_ (I have only seen the movie, not read the book): she was sleeping with one of the teachers in her school as she rose up the ladder. He, of course, is then fired and loses his family. So she’s over-ambitious and in possession of a vagina dentata. Perhaps politico.com is correct, and we should keep such sexually powerful creatures away from men like Sen. David Vitter–he couldn’t take it!

  2. ortho stice on 26 Jan 2009 at 7:05 am #

    Dowd’s hatchet job is more representative of NYC elitism and arrogance than anything else. The arrogant NYC blue-blood elite are upset that the Governor gave an upstate hick an opportunity to represent the State. Frankly, for the last 30 years, downstate representatives have done no favors for the 7-million-plus people who live in the poor, rural, economically-depressed areas of upstate New York.

    Local, political context is just as important as the national, gender context that Historiann’s post explores.

  3. Belle on 26 Jan 2009 at 7:27 am #

    As one of those uppity women the press decries, I’m with you Historiann. This kind of coverage is out of date, but unfortunately, still too common.

  4. susurro on 26 Jan 2009 at 7:38 am #

    while I agree that if Senator A was a man with the same coverage disparity I would be livid, I do think some of this disparity has to do with the two Senators political leanings. A tends to run far right on policy (particularly economic and social policy) while B has a non-government record of working to the far left (particularly on education and civil rights). And while B is very much a legacy who got unfair accolades for that reason (and that legacy was very much gendered), A has no such advantage. So while the coverage is sexist, and the love affair with B has been overtly, covertly, and straddling sexist, there are clear political differences between the two that also impact their reception. How do we talk about the sexism in a way that does not flatten out these other issues?

    (Just a note, I am asking that question not just out of concern for this issue but also because I think some other Senate and Mayoral issues of late have also had “isms” interlaced with other non-oppression based concerns and they too have been flattened out in ways that make it hard to take a multi-angle approach to resolving or addressing them.)

  5. koshem bos on 26 Jan 2009 at 9:06 am #

    A male CEO is tough; a woman CEO is a bitch.

    What else is new?

  6. Historiann on 26 Jan 2009 at 9:37 am #

    There is no evidence whatsoever that Senator B(ennet) is a progressive or to the left of Senator G(illibrand). Bennet in fact is associated with center-right nonsense like educational “reform” without resources. He spent 5 years as a Educrat for the Denver Public Schools. That’s the sum total of his record in public service.

    And, by the way: all Colorado pols (with the exception of Denver’s rep Diana DeGette, and the new Boulder guy) have very good ratings with the NRA. This is the West–people love them their guns, so don’t expect Bennet’s record on guns to look different from Gillibrand’s in congress. (In fact, there’s a greater chance that she’ll end up to the left of him, since she has to run statewide in NY and he has to run in CO.)

  7. Matt L on 26 Jan 2009 at 11:45 am #

    Historiann, I agree with you, Senator G’s coverage has been horrifically sexist and Senator B has gotten a free pass.

    I also agree with John S. The reporting on all of the Senate appointments (including the one in Illinois) has been remarkably substance free. Since we are all in the new ‘Obama era of pragmatism’(TM) it would be nice to know how all these people would actually govern. (A 100% NRA approval rating does not tell you how somebody is going to vote on say financial regulations).

    Finally, these Senate appointments go to show how undemocratic the idea of gubernatorial appointments are. I would wager that either Burris nor Bennett could have won their Senate seats if that had to contest them in an election. Gillibrand might have, since she has been elected and re-elected to the House. We would have had none of Caroline Kennedy’s waffling: she would have actually had to pony up some cash and run an election.

  8. Matt L on 26 Jan 2009 at 11:48 am #

    Shoot!@#$% (should have proofread again)

    I meant to say neither Burris nor Bennet would have won an open election… I think Gillibrand could have won an open election for the senate.

  9. Fratguy on 26 Jan 2009 at 12:27 pm #

    A male blue dog is just a blue dog but a female blue dog is a bitch. Don’t recall hearing much about this with Jim Webb et al last year.

  10. susurro on 26 Jan 2009 at 1:02 pm #

    My apologies, I thought you were referring to someone else. Obviously if you are talking about Bennet, my comments are completely off base.

  11. susurro on 26 Jan 2009 at 1:04 pm #

    (However, the West includes the Left Coast, where people do not “love their guns.” That said, I was actually talking about more than her NRA stance which I do see as an issue just not the only one.)

  12. Historiann on 26 Jan 2009 at 4:07 pm #

    Sorry to check out all day–afternoon seminar, you know the drill.

    Susurro–I gotcha. Yes, CA is “The West”–I should have specified the Mountain West. And, FratGuy is exactly right: why is it more OK for Jim Webb or Brian Schweitzer to have a top rating with the NRA? New York voters like Ortho will have the opportunity to decide whom they want representing them in 2010 and again in 2012, so Gillibrand will have to dance with them that brung her or she’ll be out. It seems like she’s pivoting deftly so far, but hey–I’m not a Gillibrand fan here. I’m just a friend of fairness and justice, friends, and I’m (once again!) utterly disgusted by the disparity in treatment women pols receive compared even to their lightest of lightweight male peers (paging Senator Bennet! )

    John S.’s and Matt’s point about the substance of political reporting is great: if reporters would stick to issues, positions, and facts, there would be a little less room for all of the cultural baggage to sneak in. (That first article I linked to was all baggage, and sour grapes.) Matt is right–Special Elections, not Special Appointments, are what we need.

  13. Liz2 on 26 Jan 2009 at 8:46 pm #

    Historiann – you’ll love this little piece from my school’s daily. Read the comments about Clinton, I can’t begin to tell you how sexist this reads. Funny, I’ve heard the guy fancies himself a real ladies man.
    http://tulane.edu/news/newwave/012609_jeff_stacey.cfm

    Sorry to bring it back to sexism in the academy, but somedays it just feels like we’re getting beaten over the head.

  14. Historiann on 26 Jan 2009 at 8:51 pm #

    Ugh. What a tool. How does he think those comments will help his “research access?” Maybe he should pass out “brownies and cookies” on his first day at Foggy Bottom!

  15. Susan on 27 Jan 2009 at 9:03 am #

    Totally agree about the coverage. The irony, of course, is that Senator G has also benefited from being part of a political family, which is why she felt prepared to run for congress where she did not apparently live. (She was working as a corporate lawyer in NYC, but ran upstate.)

  16. Historiann on 27 Jan 2009 at 9:13 am #

    That’s true–but she doesn’t have a “brand name.” (She took her husband’s name in marriage, and he’s British as I understand.) She certainly benefited from her father’s experience and connections as a lobbyist (not an elected pol), as do most men in national politics these days. (Our other Senator goes by the name of “Udall,” which I might have held against him except for the fact that he spent several years in the House and he’s a true “Boulder liberal.”) But–Gillibrand’s first job in politics was not a “special” appointment to the U.S. Senate.

    My rules were the same for men and women candidates for “special” appointments: show that you’ve got the chops, explain clearly your stands on the issues, and a successful election campaign in your past. Caroline Kennedy was inappropriate by those standards, as is Michael Bennet, but Bennet got the call anyway. (Must have been those fantastic brownies!)

  17. cgeye on 27 Jan 2009 at 10:53 am #

    Funny, the only thing I can think of when reading that missive from Tulane is “douche”.

    One can hope Madame Secretary’s associates, both male and female, create a Great Wall of denied access for this clown.

    It’s one thing being a fool, but another to advertise it in your college magazine….

  18. Historiann on 27 Jan 2009 at 11:00 am #

    Yeah–that was my reaction. (You dropped the D-bag, not me, cgeye!) Especially the invidious comparison to Richardson who (I’m sorry, GayProf) is rumored to have quite a closet full of jangly ol’ skeletons, especially of the sexual harrassment variety.

    Once again, it’s the Ladies of Edenton Tea Party attitude rearing its ancient head!

  19. Feminist Law Professors » Blog Archive » “Gender, history and biography” on 27 Jan 2009 at 8:08 pm #

    [...] Oh and while you are over there, also check out A Tale of Two Senators. [...]

  20. Jeremy Young on 29 Jan 2009 at 4:04 pm #

    To be fair, Senator B is going to be primaried, and Senator G has that seat for life. The brownies and cookies will dry up real fast when Senator B loses his job. Meanwhile, a lot of the anger directed at Senator G comes from people who wanted that seat and who will now never have a shot at it, because she’s just too damn good at her job.

    Note that I’m absolutely not condoning the sexist language used to describe Gillibrand. But isn’t there a possibility that this discrepancy comes from something more than sexism?

  21. Historiann on 29 Jan 2009 at 4:09 pm #

    I’ve seen no on announce her or his intention of primarying Bennet–what’s your source on the notion that he’ll be primaried? For the record–I’m not a Gillibrand partisan, I’m just making note of the different treatment each candidate has received in the press.

    If the Dems are unhappy with Gillibrand, then someone should primary her. Let the chips fall where they may.

  22. Jeremy Young on 29 Jan 2009 at 4:18 pm #

    You know what? I could have sworn that I saw something about that, but when I went back and checked my source, all I could find was polls of Republicans versus Bennet. I guess it was wishful thinking on my part. I hate political nobodies who get free appointments to powerful positions. I’d primary him myself if I was old enough and lived in Colorado. (What a spectacle I’d make!)

    On the other hand, I happen to be a huge fan of Gillibrand, and have been since she first ran for Congress.

    So — mea culpa on that primary idea. I do wish it’d happen, though. And also, that does invalidate the rest of my argument in the previous comment. Oops! Carry on.

  23. Historiann on 29 Jan 2009 at 4:20 pm #

    Jeremy, let me know if you’re open to being my campaign manager. I’ve got a spare room in the basement, and I’ll make you Chief of Staff when I’m elected the next Senator from Colorado!

  24. Historiann on 29 Jan 2009 at 4:21 pm #

    And of course, you can say anything you like about me when I’m dead–no hard feelings.

  25. Jeremy Young on 29 Jan 2009 at 4:22 pm #

    Absolutely! You’ll just have to match my grad school salary, which shouldn’t be too hard…I think you’ll be more accomplished than Bennet anyway, even after he’s had two years on the job. Heh.

Trackback URI | Comments RSS

Leave a Reply